A year and a half ago I began talking about the Millennial Generation on my blog, in large part because my son, Jess, and I decided to research this generation and offer an early assessment of them. Our project is finally complete: a recently released book called The Millennials with B&H Publishing. I commend it to you.
In future posts I’ll unpack key aspects of our research about this important generation. But for now, I’d like to present a few broad and general insights about the Millennials that will serve as a foundation for later discussions.
Who are the Millennials?
I have identified Millennials to be those born between 1980 and 2000, primarily on the basis of clear spikes in the number of live births during these years. The research for the book specifically examined older Millennials—those born between 1980 and 1991. This representative sample has given us a clear look into who the Millennials are.
At first, I labeled this group the “Bridger Generation,” since they bridge one millennium to the next. Obviously, the term didn’t stick. Others tried to name them “Generation Y” or apply other labels. Now, it seems, most have agreed to call this generation “Millennials.”
The sheer size of the Millennial Generation is staggering. Between 1980 and 2000, nearly 78 million live births took place. Compare that with the Boomer Generation, which nearly had 76 million live births from 1946 to 1964. Like the Boomers, the Millennials are just too big to ignore.
Several key insights rose to the top in our research about this generation. Painting with broad strokes, the Millennials:
- Value education. In 2007, the first year the 25-29 year old group was entirely comprised of Millennials, 30 percent had attained a college degree.
- Tarry to marry. Millennials marry much later in life, if at all, than in previous generations. Perhaps one reason why is because about 65 percent choose to cohabitate, at least once, prior to marriage.
- Reflect diversity. Millennials are the most diverse generation in American history, representing a shrinking Anglo population and a growing Hispanic, Black, and Asian demographic.
As the Boomers shaped so much of American culture for most of the last half of the 20th century, so the Millennials will for the first half of the 21st century. Like the Boomers, Millennials have caught the attention of businesses, schools, media, churches and other organizations, who recognize their influence, potential, and buying power.
What are the Millennials like?
First, they are a hopeful generation. In our study, about 96% of Millennials indicated that they can do something great. A generation of optimists, for sure! One conclusion might be that Millennials are naïve and disconnected. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Millennials, largely, are realists who know that all is not well in the world. But, they believe they can have a role in changing it and making a difference with their lives.
Second, they are a relational generation. Perhaps this is why social networks like Twitter and Facebook are thriving in our culture. Millennials want to communicate and connect with others, there is no doubt about it. Relationships at work and with friends are valued highly, but so also are family relationships. I was encouraged to find that 9 out of 10 Millennials said their parents had a positive influence on them.
Third, they are a generation of learners. I’ve already mentioned that they value education, but more should be said. There are reasons why Millennials are receiving undergraduate degrees at a rate that surpasses all previous generations. Many in our study indicated two main reasons why they frenetically pursue education: parents and pragmatics. Millennials listen to their parents’ advice, especially regarding education. But Millennials also desire to get ahead, and one factor that separates them from each other in the work force is education.
Fourth, they are a less religious generation. I have to admit that this aspect grieves me, but motivates me as well (imagine the missiological implications!). Only 13 percent of the Millennials considered in our study said that spirituality of any type was important to them. One out of ten. Most Millennials don’t even think about religious matters at all. This generation is not antagonistic toward religion, especially Christianity, but rather agnostic toward all aspects of religion.
More about Millennials
I love this generation because my three sons are all Millennials. I see their potential, their influence, their desires, and their impact. I am proud of them, and I am hopeful for their generation.
Theirs is the generation of Britney Spears, LeBron James, Chelsea Clinton, and the Olsen twins. Millennials are already defining a new millennium and they will shape and influence our world for decades to come. Are we ready for them? Are churches in America prepared to understand and engage this enormous, important generation?